Reflections: On Untangling Narratives

Like any outlet worth its salt, the “About” section of this blog has stated its mission to “collect stories of struggle, triumph, fear and joy of Filipinos all over the world.”

So I will begin with a disclaimer: I am not a BalikBayani like the people highlighted in this blog so far. I wasn’t born in the Philippines. I have no solid toddler memories of fiestas in the provinces nor did I grow up in proximity to my biological Titas and Titos. I have the privilege of being a natural-born American citizen and of attending a private university while on financial aid, unlike international students.

What I bring to this post, and what I hope to bring in future posts of this blog, is the voice of a Filipino American who is constantly exploring where she fits in the Filipino Diaspora.

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Despite growing up in a town that was 80% ethnically Mexican, I was always aware of being Filipino. Most importantly, I was never shamed for taking pride in being Filipino. I used to search for Filipino mythology on the internet and I often grabbed a copy of Asian Journal when my family shopped at Seafood City. Even before I joined a Filipino club in college–the first time I would be involved in the Los Angeles Filipino community–I read an English translation of Noli Me Tangere. I also had the privilege of traveling to the Philippines every other year since I was seven.

To some people, especially recent presidential nominees, I’m too connected to Filipino culture to be “just American.” There are many times, however, I feel too American to be considered Filipino.

I’m not fluent in Tagalog nor Bisaya; I can read, speak and write in French far better than I can in my family’s native languages. I don’t know the names of many Filipino dishes. I didn’t watch the Filipino channel. It wasn’t until I started eating taro snacks in college that I began to appreciate the sweeter flavor of ube. I’m far too friendly and affectionate for the taste of a conservative Filipino like my mother.

But If there is anything I’ve learned in my years of interacting with Fil-Ams of varying engagement with Filipino culture and communities, it’s that the story of all ethnic Filipinos is complex. There’s a lot of historical, economical and social factors to consider.

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And that is part of why this blog exists. Telling the individual stories of ethnic Filipinos allows others to understand that Filipinos cannot fit into one peg. Some Filipino children abroad were taught to speak Tagalog, others were only taught the dominant language. Some Filipino children were raised to assimilate into the dominant culture for survival, others were raised to hold strong to their roots. Some Filipinos have Muslim names, others have Spanish names, still others have Chinese names.

When we as Filipinos tell our stories and discuss issues in communities abroad and in the Philippines, we must be fully aware of the asterisks that may come with any general statement we make. Many of our individual narratives share common threads, but making sweeping generalizations (which I will visit in a later post), makes us no better than non-Filipinos who do the same.

As a new contributor to this blog, I aim to profile fellow Filipino Americans who are doing good within their local communities, mostly in America. Like Michi, I will also offer my own opinion pieces, particularly on Filipino-related social issues in America and in the Philippines.

And in future posts from all of us here at The BalikBayani Blog, I hope you’ll continue to see a bit of yourself in what you read, and also learn something new. Cheers to recognizing the efforts of others and the potential for us to do the same!

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Have a BalikBayani story? Email us at thebalikbayaniblog@gmail.com

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